Standing 6-foot-10 and listed at an improbable 215 pounds, Davis has provided the one thing that most observers thought had vanished for the 2008-09 edition of the Tar Heels when Marcus Ginyard was sidelined for the season – a defensive presence. The Richmond, Va. product blocked four shots and helped to frustrate Big South Player of the Year Art Parakhouski into a 3-of-15 shooting performance in North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament opening round 101-58 win over Radford on Thursday.
“He gives us a shot blocking presence down there, he gives us a guy that can rebound the ball in a crowd and I think he’s gotten even better in both of those areas as he’s gotten used to the more athletic, bigger players that we’ve been playing,” Williams said three weeks ago.
Interestingly enough, if current Michigan State forward Delvon Roe had stuck to his under-the-covers word to commit to North Carolina in April ’07, Davis would most likely be playing college at Virginia or Connecticut. But Roe chose the Spartans, and despite a late offer that arrived within days after the announcement of Tom Izzo’s headline recruit, Davis elected to play his collegiate ball in Chapel Hill.
Since then, all he’s done is provide a legitimate option off the UNC bench, averaging 6.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per outing. Davis was named to the ACC All-Freshman team earlier this month after ranking 12th in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots (61 total).
In a season full of broken records and staggering statistics, Davis may be holding the most impressive one – his current average of a rebound every 2.8 minutes ranks better than the career numbers for Sam Perkins (one every 3.8 minutes), George Lynch (one every 3.4 minutes), and Antawn Jamison (one every 3.4 minutes). Those three Tar Heels make up three of the top four on the all-time UNC rebounding list. The one name missing is Billy Cunningham, and that’s only because minutes played weren’t tracked during his career.
Davis’ knack for finding the ball – both off the glass and off opponents’ fingertips – is something that he describes as a “natural” ability. His father, Terry, played 10 seasons in the NBA, averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in his fourth year with the Dallas Mavericks.
Having a father of that ability level offers a plethora of learning opportunities, and the younger Davis took full advantage, absorbing the infinite details of the game as a youth, such as staying on the ground on defense and the importance of great timing.
Making your case heard at the ACC level is difficult enough, but Davis has had to achieve his success playing behind four-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough and two-year starter Deon Thompson. But as it turns out, those individuals may be part of the reason that Davis has exploded.
“I think having Tyler and Deon in the starting lineup and carrying the load has allowed Ed to come along at a comfortable pace for him,” Williams said. “We’ve pushed him every single day in practice. He’s been good all year – he was good in Maui. But he hasn’t had to carry the load. He hasn’t had the major responsibility because of those other guys being there.”
For Davis, practice often presents more difficult challenges than what he encounters when the television cameras are on and the opponents’ colors are something different than Carolina blue and white.
“It’s tough, because in practice I might go against Tyler on one possession, and then the next possession you’re going against Zeller and then Deon,” Davis said. “You’re just getting better everyday because everybody has a different type of game. Tyler’s more a strong player, Deon’s going to get you on the inside and outside, and Zeller’s going to do everything. So it’s tough learning all of their games and it translates into the game when you’re playing against other people.”
There’s no question that Davis has earned the respect of his interior teammates.
“He’s strong around the basket,” Hansbrough said. “He’s making some big plays for us. He’s a good shot blocker and he’s been playing pretty good defensively for us.”
Brandan Wright was the last great Tar Heel shot blocking threat during the 2006-07 season, and despite his 65 blocks still leading Davis’ count by four, both Hansbrough and Thompson believe the current freshman alters shots more effectively than their former teammate.
“I definitely think they’re similar, but I feel like Ed blocks a lot more shots than Brandan did… Ed definitely brings a presence in the paint,” Thompson said.
But while Davis’ freshman season will forever be linked with strong defensive play, it’s important to note that his offense is slowing, but steadily, evolving as well. He is averaging 8.6 points over the last five games, while shooting 59.3 percent (16-of-27) from the field.
“When I first got here, the game was so fast,” Davis said. “It’s finally starting to slow down. I can read the defense [and] read the offense, and then watching film just helps you out with everything… I feel like I’m starting to understand the game, and to know what’s a good shot and when I need to shoot. Just with more experience, it’s getting easier.”
The future is bright for Davis, and the most intriguing question about this young man is how much better he will become with another 20 pounds loaded onto his slender frame. But he indicated on Friday that he has no desire to talk about the future – his only concern is helping his team in the present, and that starts against LSU on Saturday night.